Hikers who look for easy or medium-difficulty routes can find a good choice of paths, either starting from the valley or from the cable car stations at mid-height on the mountains, such as the Lognan (altitude 1972 mwtres), Flégère (m. 1877), Planpraz (2000) or Plan de l’Aiguille (2317).
It is advisable to have a good map of the footpaths, such as the IGN Carte de Randonnée – Chamonix – Massif de Mont Blanc (scale 1:25000). The tourist office of Chamonix produces and sells a general map of the paths (price 4 euros) but it provides only an approximate and not detailed overview.
For those who want to do more difficult hikes it is advisable to have an experienced guide. They can contact the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix-Mont-Blanc.
For all it is recommended to store into their mobile phones the number of the mountain rescue (PGHM), in order to have it immediately available in case of a serious emergency: +33 4 50 53 16 89.
Weather bulletins from Météo France are posted at the Tourist Office and at the Maison de la Montagne.
The Tour of Mont Blanc is a classic and famous walk that brings you through three countries and circumnavigates Mont Blanc. Chamonix, Les Houches, St Gervais, Courmayeur, Praz de Fort, Champex, Triente, Vallorcine and Argentiere are some of the towns you pass nearby on your journey through France, Italy and Switzerland. It can be done in a complete loop taking 5-11 days or in separate sections. Many of the towns have either train or bus service and along the route there are manned huts allowing you to travel light in your backpack and have hot meals and even showers in some of the huts or to take a real luxury break and stay in a hotel and explore a mountain town for a day on your way around the circuit.
The scenery is magnificent and the route is generally high (with some easier and harder variations) allowing gorgeous photo opportunities (and certainly if you are not in shape before the hike you will be afterwards).
You can do the hike yourself if you are an experienced mountain walker or there are many guide companies which have Mountain Leaders (Accompagnateur en Moyenne Montagne in French) qualified to lead your hike, and who can also tell you about the local wildlife and wild flowers as well as the history of the region to make a more meaningful and enriched experience out of your journey.
The huts do not start to open for tourists until mid June. Before then a few might be available as unmanned ski huts. If you start too early or late, there will be avalanche danger on some of the high cols, besides the difficulty of passage w/o crampons, ice axe ropes etc.. Therefore trekking season for most tourists is mid June until mid September to have a staffed hut to hut travel with cooked meals etc.; otherwise it is wild camping with high mountain exposure and dangers of avalanche to be aware of. The weather can range from broiling hot in the day time (40C in some recent summers) dropping to near freezing or even below zero at night at altitude, and you can even have snow in August.
All huts will speak French, even in Switzerland and Italy. English is also widely spoken, however it is best and most polite and will get you a better welcome if you at least greet and thank people in their own language and ask if they speak English before prattling off at them in English (French is the native language in France and the part of Switzerland you will be travelling through and of course Italian in Italy).
A comfortable medium sized backpack is usually sufficient to hold required gear unless you are camping. Bring only one main change of clothes and rinse your clothes out at the hut in the evening as soon as you arrive at the hut, and let them dry outside and then on your backpack during the next morning (as long as rain is not forecast!). Bring enough layers to allow you to survive a night outdoors in -10C (in case of emergency bivvy). It's not a fashion show so honestly - don't carry more clothes than absolutely required or you will suffer!
Do NOT forget your camera and plenty of disk space on your digital media, or plenty of rolls of film if you still shoot film. It is a good idea to bring many some waterproof bags which can be used to keep your camera dry.
Ensure your passport and other personal papers are kept in a waterproof bag or sac and if you do not have a rain cover for your backpack, be sure to have a plastic liner for the entire contents of your backpack.
Equipment: Some essentials are: a waterproof and windproof jacket, long underwear, trousers which can unzip into shorts, two to three pairs of walking socks, two or three changes of underwear, two sports bras for women, synthetic long sleeved shirt, synthetic short sleeved shirt base layer (2), medium fleece, a woolly hat, medium gloves, thermal vest or duvet jacket (light weight and easy to roll and stow) and an emergency blanket or emergency shelter (very thin material, for sale in camping stores) and a camp towel should suffice.
A sleeping bag is not required if you are staying in refuges, but a sleeping sac liner (cotton or silk) will ensure your personal hygiene in the group sleeping arrangements. If you do not want to pay to sleep in the huts, you can bring a sleeping bag and bivvy sac to sleep outdoors, and purchase meals in the huts separately.
The huts provide slippers/clogs so that you can let your hiking boots air and dry until the morning. Normally you are not allowed to wear your boots indoors.
Poles are highly recommended to help knees and balance on the frequent uphill and downhill sections. A hat with sunshade and good sunglasses are essential, as is plenty of suncream as the sun is very strong at altitude.
A small MP3 player or ear plugs for sleeping in group accomodations in the huts is also very handy if you are a light sleeper.
Be sure to carry some snacks in your pack while walking (often candy bars can be stocked up at the refuges, which by the way take cash, not credit cards!) and do not forget basic first aid remedies and a Swiss army knife type of tool.
A 2 L water sac is useful to avoid having to constantly stop to get out your water bottle to drink. You can find clean water from spigots often enough on the route to not require carrying more than 2 L at a time, and in some sections where refuges are spaced close together on the map you will only need to carry 1 L of water before the next fill up spot.
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